A player exodus of sorts is coming to Loftus Versfeld again.
However, that’s down to Jake White exercising his prerogative powers as the Bulls’ new director of rugby, not his personality.
Netwerk24 earlier this week reported that the polarising but eminently successful former Springbok coach wants to cut no less than 17 of the franchise’s group of 45 contracted players.
Some of the purported players in the firing line have raised eyebrows, particularly regular skipper and centre Burger Odendaal, nuggety flanker Ruan ‘Stoney’ Steenkamp and influential winger Cornal Hendricks.
White is also apparently keen to off-load Juandre Kruger, the experienced former Springbok second rower who was recruited at a fairly high cost.
On top of that, midfielder Johnny Kotze became the first player to exercise the controversial 21-day escape clause, which allows any locally-based exponent to cancel his contract with a union for overseas-based employment before 14 May.
The provision is part of SA Rugby’s Covid-19 austerity agreement.
It’s understood that player representatives are unhappy with how the process is unfolding, but the Bulls are backing White’s plan.
“It’s disingenuous to suggest he’s being indiscriminate,” union president Willem Strauss told Sport24.
“Cleanouts are a natural thing when there’s a change to the leadership structure. Every coach has his own view on the players at his disposal. When we appointed Jake, we also gave him the right to assemble a group of players that aligns with his vision.”
SA Rugby’s recent restrictions on the number of players franchises are allowed to contract is a complicating factor, especially when it comes to sentimentality.
“Our hand is being forced. You can only contract 45 players. That’s it. If we manage to recruit a world-class player like Duane Vermeulen (who technically commences duties at the franchise in July), we simply have to off-load another player,” said Strauss.
“It’s tough, but that’s what needs to be done. Negotiating is also a challenge during lockdown. You can’t sit around a table and discuss things like you normally do. Jake’s credentials are impeccable, he deserves our backing.”
The genial Bulls administrator also confirmed that White’s coaching duties won’t be confined to next season’s edition of Super Rugby.
“He’s in charge, simple as that. I actually issued him with a challenge. It’s been 10 years since we’ve won a major trophy (Super Rugby in 2010). He hasn’t won a Currie Cup yet as coach. The table is set, don’t you think?”